“American Idol” was a fantastic platform for Kimberly Locke. From there she springboarded into bigger and better things. Recently, she teamed up with Disney Dreamer’s Academy to give the trip of a lifetime to 110 high school students. ESSENCE.com’s Managing Editor Emil Wilbekin sat down with Locke to discuss her participation in the program and more.
ESSENCE.com: Why is it important for you to participate in the Disney Dreamer’s Academy?
KIMBERLEY LOCKE: When I was a kid, I didn’t have enough mentors. I can remember as a kid thinking, ‘If I only had somebody for guidance. If I only had somebody I could sit down and talk to, [life] would be easier.’ I was lucky enough to have one or two mentors as a young kid and it really changed my life. It really, really changed my life.
ESSENCE.com: What about as an adult?
LOCKE: Even as an adult in this industry, I’m still looking for mentors. I am like a kid trying to clutch onto somebody’s shirttails and say, ‘Teach me something. Help me. I don’t think that ever changes throughout our lives. I think that [in addition to] this particular group of kids, there are thousands more out there who need this. The fact that they’re here and the fact that they were self-motivated enough to write an essay and get themselves here [shows that] they want it. They will remember this for the rest of their lives and I want to be a part of that. I’m a spiritual person. I believe in God. On my goal list when I’m making my goals, I ask God to show me ways that I can give back. I was taught that service is necessary. It’s not an option. I think our kids need us more than ever nowadays.
ESSENCE.com: What was your dream growing up?
LOCKE: I had a quote when I was a kid and my best friend of 20-something years said it to me the other day. I was having a moment. She said to me, ‘I really hate to see you struggling emotionally with this issue because you are living the life you’ve always wanted to live.’ I looked at her like, ‘What are you talking about Willis?’ And she said, ‘I remember when we were teenagers and you used to always say I don’t care if I have a trash route. It’s going to be the best damn trash route in town. ‘And that’s always been my motto. Whatever I’m going to do, I’m going to be successful at it. I’m going to make it my business to be successful at it and I’m going to work hard at it. As a kid, I wanted to do two things: I wanted to sing and I wanted to be a lawyer. God literally took me to a crossroads and said, ‘Here you go. Now you get to choose. When I auditioned for American Idol, I was headed to law school. I had already been accepted, bought my books, and paid for the first semester. So I’m thinking, ‘Is this a joke or is this really happening to me?’ I literally had to write a letter to the dean of my law school and withdraw from school to pursue American Idol. To be able to stand at the crossroads of the only two things I’ve ever wanted to do in my life was pretty amazing to me.
ESSENCE.com: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
LOCKE: The best advice I’ve ever received came from my mom. I remember one day when I was in high school, I was sitting on the couch balling my eyes out because I got into a fight with a girlfriend who I sang with and I couldn’t just dismiss her because we had to sing together. My mom comes in and she says, ‘What is wrong with you?’ I tell her the story and she says, ‘You have 20 minutes to cry about this and then I want you to get up and go do something.’ I apply that to everything in my life. It’s okay for me to feel [sad or angry]. If I need to cry about it, I will cry about it. If I’m mad about it, I will get mad about it, but I’m not going to stay there. I’m going to keep living because life doesn’t stop.
ESSENCE.com: This weekend, I’ve heard a lot of people talk about the ups and downs of their career and how winning isn’t always what you think winning looks like. What do you think about that?
LOCKE: I say this to people and I’ve said it to myself. Everybody has a different definition of success. You need to define success for yourself because your definition of success may not look like everyone else’s definition of success. I don’t monetize my success and I think that’s an important thing, especially for our kids. They see [success] as over-glamorized, but it’s not all about that. Money comes and goes. Money ebbs and it flows. When you’re dead and gone, your money is not your legacy. You will still be your legacy and that will be defined by what impression you make on society. What impressions did you make on the people around you and these kids here? That’s a legacy. In 10 years when these kids are 26 I hope that they have a Kimberly Locke nugget in their brain and they can say, ‘I remember when she gave me some great advice.’ That’s all I care about. I think everybody needs to define their success for themselves. When you get out there, your success takes on so many different shapes and you didn’t know it was going to look like that. To be honest with you, I’ve done so many things besides singing that I can’t even define my success through singing. And [singing is] my talent. My success has superseded [singing] as far as I’m concerned. Now you may not feel that way, but it doesn’t matter what you think! [Laughs]